Houston Catholic care center staff stays vigilant in helping seniors

Houston Catholic care center staff stays vigilant in helping seniors

Dr. Winston Watkins Jr., left, and his mother greet Winston Watkins Sr. through a window at St. Dominic Village in Houston March 21, 2020. St. Dominic Village closed its campus to visitors in early March in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Credit: CNS photo/courtesy St. Dominic Village via Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.)

Life goes on for elderly residents at St. Dominic Village in Houston even amid the current pandemic.

HOUSTON, Texas — Life goes on for elderly residents at St. Dominic Village in Houston even amid the current pandemic.

Residents still enjoy their typical social activities, said Amy Shields, CEO and administrator of the Texas Medical Center’s faith-based senior care community.

There still are happy hours, ice cream socials and snack time with popcorn and cookies — just social distance-style like the rest of the world. The staff brings around the good times with “activities on wheels” since communal dining and activities have been put on hold.

There’s still the thrill of a good game of bingo, with numbers and letters called from a cart in the middle of the hallways, each resident sitting apart at their doors. Singalongs and trivia contests still bringing harmony and brain challenges.

But when senior care centers across the world stopped welcoming visitors — a concerted, difficult effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus infection among a very vulnerable elderly population — life changed for the residents at St. Dominic Village. By May 5, Harris County, where St. Dominic Village is located, accounted for nearly 21% of all COVID-19 cases in Texas.

Even so, Shields and her staff “stay vigilant” in incredible efforts to ensure that residents are both safe, comfortable and spiritually cared for during the pandemic.

With the physical absence of visitors within the center, staff are utilizing the internet to video chat, send photos and videos, and assist with the good old-fashioned phone call. The staff notifies families of any changes in a resident’s condition, and residents’ families are always welcome to call at any time, Shields told the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

While visitors are permitted to drop off care packages and items like notes, pictures and snacks for their residents, Shields said such things are sanitized to protect the entire community.

Like other places of worship across the archdiocese, the Warren Chapel remains closed to worshippers.

“Spiritual care is so important to so many of our residents,” Shields said. “And since we have had to close Warren Chapel, we have been having Mass and livestreaming it to our residents’ rooms.”

The Village’s spiritual care director also provided residents material and information on ways to continue spiritual care via television.

Although there have been no confirmed positive tests of COVID-19 on campus, Shields admitted the coronavirus pandemic provided new and different challenges for her staff and their residents.

They include the limitations of families and residents no longer able to visit with each other, the decision to limit the admission of new residents in the Village’s independent and assisted living centers to keep current residents safe and even the lack of access to personal protective equipment.

The Village was not spared from the financial challenges of the pandemic, as Shields said staff members decided to cancel two major fundraisers. The operation also has seen a loss of revenue because of the decline in hospital discharges to their facilities. The community, which is a ministry of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, typically cares for 300 long-term and 300 short-term residents.

Still, time goes on, and birthdays continue to be celebrated. When a resident turned 90, her family arrived to celebrate across the parking lot with balloons, signs and more.

On social media, the Village continued to share posts with photos of smiling residents toting handmade, bilingual signs with messages of love and care to their family and friends.

In a message to a younger loved one, one resident wrote: “I miss you and hope all is well. I am doing okay, and I hope you are staying inside.”

Shields said she was inspired by the generosity of so many despite the pandemic.

“Families and visitors … have donated masks, medical supplies and resources” to the Village, she said.

Shields also credited the Village’s staff for their ever-vigilant efforts to care for residents.

“They have continued to provide the same level of care to our residents, all while dealing with the personal aspects of this pandemic in their own lives and families,” she said. “They show up each day and love our residents like their own.”

Ramos is a staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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